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Legislators, farmers back agriculture bill

February 15, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

In a show of unity that has been rare thus far in the General Assembly, farmers, environmentalists, House leaders and the Ehrlich administration on Tuesday endorsed legislation they say will both encourage agriculture and help restore the Chesapeake Bay.

The Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006, heard before a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Environmental Matters Committees, would boost funding for several agricultural programs designed to limit pollution running off into the bay.

But it also increases funding for the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and formalizes the process for establishing priority preservation areas.

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"This is a great example where the agricultural community and advocates of the environment are coming together for the best interest, longterm, of the Chesapeake Bay," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Calling the bay "a great environmental and economic tool," Busch said the measure unites two communities that "have for too long clashed."

Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., acknowledged the rift during the hearing when, turning to Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, he noted that a 1998 environmental bill "was the last time Mr. Baker and I were in this room together - and not in the harmony we have today."

The problem environmental regulations pose for farmers is economical, Baker said. The costs of production go up while the prices for the resulting commodities do not, he said. Asking farmers to take a further hit by changing their methods to help the bay "is an enormous 'ask,'" he said.

The bill, he said, outlines "a set of solutions that need to be funded."

In addition to new money for anti-pollution programs and agricultural preservation, the bill also seeks money for programs to help young farmers purchase farmland and to test new technologies. It would also create a task force to study tax incentives for farmers.

Most pollutants in the bay are coming from outlying areas, said Del. Neil Quinter, D-Howard. To get farmers' cooperation, "sometimes you can accomplish a lot more with a carrot than a stick," he said.

House Bill 2

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